“Nobody comes to Aurora for fun”: The city lacks an entertainment anchor and there is no consensus on reaching one
AURORA | A group of members of Aurora City Council last week rejected a citizen-tabled proposal urging the city to opt out of a regional cultural district and venture into its own entertainment jurisdiction.
Jeff Brown, a resident of Aurora, briefed the city’s federal, state, and interstate Relations Committee on April 14, asking members to propose to the full council to move the city out of the 30-year-old district for scientific and cultural institutions cut out and set up an identical tax district at the city level.
Brown said the idea would strengthen the city’s coffers, keep the city’s revenue within community boundaries, and pave the way for the construction of a performing arts complex in Aurora, possibly similar to the facilities at Lone Tree and Parker.
“Nobody comes to Aurora for fun, and we leave Aurora too often to see a show in Denver, Parker, Lone Tree, Centennial and whatever,” he told councilors. “… I also suggest that Aurora turn 180 degrees into the performing arts and entertainment to revitalize the city’s dining and retail sectors.”
Brown advocates sending a poll to local voters in November urging residents to de-register from the SCFD with seven counties and set up a special tax district at the local level.
He has claimed the city can unilaterally exit the district on a county-related poll, despite SCFD officials countering the need for state lawmakers to pass a measure to remove Aurora from the current district before referring a poll.
The trio of councilors on the city government committee, Angela Lawson, Nicole Johnston and Curtis Gardner, said it would be premature to refer an election measure to voters this fall. Instead, they suggested doing a market study to assess the feasibility of creating a new district or building a new arts center.
“We need to make sure we have data to back up what we bring to voters,” said Gardner.
City officials suggested funding the market study in the upcoming budget negotiations. If a study were funded, officials would likely also assemble a citizen task force, which city officials said could lead to an election issue that will be put to voters in 2022.
The whisper of the construction of a performing arts complex in Aurora has permeated the city for decades, though no proposals have materialized. Former Mayor Steve Hogan alluded to a public-private partnership Aurora could bring to such a facility in 2017, though talks eventually stalled. Hogan died after being diagnosed with cancer in 2018.
Aurora voters twice rejected the election to fund a performing arts structure in Aurora, once in 1979 and again in 2002.
Alice Lee Main, former director of the city’s cultural services department, told Sentinel in 2016 that the 2002 project was to be combined with a branch of the Aurora Public Library and that the 1979 issue called for a tripartite establishment, a theater, one To house a museum and a library – all of this would have been connected by a central atrium with communal gallery spaces.
The failed proposals have left the city without a unique artistic anchor, though some theaters and dance companies have called the Aurora Cultural Arts District along East Colfax Avenue home for years.
Still, Gardner lamented the lack of cultural space in Aurora, particularly in the city’s southern and eastern peripheries.
“We need to do more here in Aurora,” he told his councilors. “Yes, it’s great that we have a great cultural arts scene on the subway, but if my wife and I are going to do something on a Friday night, there aren’t a lot of options in Aurora – there really isn’t a fact. We live in the far southeast corner of Aurora, and while the Fox Theater is great, it’s a significant commitment. And after the show there aren’t a lot of places where I go to eat or have a drink or anything like that. While I understand we have some amenities here, I don’t think we have the amenities that equate to a city our size. “
However, Gardner and others expressed concern that Brown’s proposal could divert funding away from the area’s most magnetic cultural sites, such as the Denver Arts Museum and Denver Botanic Gardens, and deplete the collective cultural offerings for Aurora’s residents.
The so-called “Big Five” cultural centers in Denver receive most of the SCFD funding each year, although a formula change made a few years ago ensures that more funding goes to smaller groups when an annual revenue cap is reached.
SCFD officials told council members that the group’s 11-person board and five-person staff are open to working with Aurora staff to seek possible bids to build a new venue in the city.
Still, Jake Zambrano, Arapahoe County SCFD chief executive, condemned Brown’s latest proposal.
“Mr. Brown’s endeavor to establish a cultural venue in Aurora is noble … but … cannibalizing SCFD dollars for operations in some of our wonderful Tier II and Tier III operations to build a debt servicing building, is short-sighted and harmful to our community, “he said.
First electoral passed in 1988, SCFD charges one cent per $ 10 to fund nearly 400 art groups in the area. Voters have re-approved the tax four times over the decades, most recently in 2016.
A bevy of Aurora arts groups receive money from the district, including The Vintage Theater, Kim Robards Dance, and the Aurora Singers. The city’s cultural services department receives the largest local share of the SCFD cake, which grossed $ 350,000 in 2019, according to district documents.
According to Brown’s suggestion, the city would have to replenish these funds from the general fund, according to city officials.
Brown said he was frustrated with the councilors’ recent decision and was moving on to see how he can get his proposal for the November vote.
“It is disappointing to see our city guides neglecting the revenue opportunity by keeping this initiative going for another two years,” he wrote in an email. “By not engaging in entertainment or the arts, the council leaves over $ 28 million a year in sales tax, along with over $ 6 million in cultural funds invested in the city’s venues and cultural organizations should.”